As the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic winds down, the hospitality industry is anxious to welcome meeting planners and guests as bookings begin to grow. For most hotel brands, this means establishing expansive safety and cleanliness programs throughout their communal spaces. For others, it means established near-contactless stays through innovative touchless technologies. As more guests prefer mobile-enabled hospitality experiences post-COVID pandemic, hotel brands are responding accordingly.
“We’ve always had our guests at the heart of everything we do at Hilton and, in recent years, the integration of physical and digital has been a key focus of our innovation agenda,” says Mike Gathright, senior vice president of customer experience, Hilton. “Over the past 18 months, the world changed and adjusted to the realities of the pandemic and, at Hilton, in many ways, we stayed the course and took the same strategic approach that we’ve always taken: to lead the industry with innovation that has a meaningful and lasting impact on guest experience.”
When the pandemic hit, the Hilton team knew it needed to act fast. “We quickly accelerated our efforts to ensure our guests had seamless, contactless and controlled experiences around the world,” Gathright says. Combining the digital innovation efforts of the Hilton Honors app with our industry-leading Hilton CleanStay program, we aimed to elevate the safety and security, as well as overall experience, of our guests before arrival, at check-in and in their guest room.” Much of this work was in progress and used by millions of guests pre-pandemic, but one of the biggest lessons the Hilton team learned is that innovation makes a big impact during good times and bad. Already having this innovative technology at scale put Hilton in a position to best serve its guests during the toughest of times. “With our innovations, we have fast-tracked the pace of change, shaping the future for our industry, guests, owners and team members through ‘a decade of innovation’ in just 12 months, and we look forward to continuing to pave the way,” Gathright says.
Hilton’s key contactless technology initiatives include:
Today’s guests at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts can now check in on their mobile device, utilize a digital key on their mobile device to access their room and conduct touchless mobile payments rather than “chip and pin” transactions. With more than 9,000 hotels across approximately 90 countries, Wyndham has made a concerted effort to upgrade its mobile app to offer state-of-the-art touchless technology capabilities in the industry. At Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek in Florida, for example, guests may choose to receive their room key digitally via their mobile phone. Guests at many of Wyndham’s locales can also leverage mobile check-in and checkout to reduce contact between themselves and hotel staff.
The Wyndham app also boasts an “in-stay mode” that allows guests to see the most important information about their hotel within three days of their stay, including mobile check-in, text messaging with the front desk and local attractions. And to help in the gamification of their company app and to appeal to consumers in unique ways, the Wyndham app allows guests to track their accomplishments, such as booking a stay via the app or redeeming points. Guests can also earn new “stamps” via that app that can result in increased point balance and various promotional offers.
The eagerness to return to “business as usual” is palpable at many of the Caesars Entertainment properties throughout the U.S. In fact, Caesars Entertainment is ready to welcome conferences back as Las Vegas fully opened on June 1. For example, Meeting Professionals International recently held its MPI WEC 2021 annual conference at CAESARS FORUM with more than 1,200 attendees in person. “Cvent CONNECT [was]with us at the beginning of August with 1,500 live attendees,” says Michael Massari, chief sales officer for Caesars Entertainment Inc. and co-chair of Meetings Mean Business. “The fall is extremely busy, as everyone who postponed their meetings will be here. The pent-up demand for gathering is real. We brought our teams back, and everyone can’t wait to be there to take care of customers. We are, after all, in the hospitality business.”
Also, Caesars has several capital projects in various stages of completion. Harrah’s Las Vegas has an all new room product and new lobby. This property is connected to CAESARS FORUM, and will go through more changes as the guest profile changes from leisure to corporate. In Reno Tahoe and in Atlantic City, Caesars has capital projects taking place as well. According to Massari, this fall, Harrah’s Cherokee, which is about an hour outside Atlanta, Georgia will celebrate a grand opening of beautifully appointed new conference space and new hotel rooms. “We are continuously looking at ways to enhance the guest experience and guest expectations,” Massari says. One key way of doing this is through the ability of touchless hotel check-in. Using a mobile app, guests can check into a hotel room and use a key on their mobile phone. Guests can still use kiosks, or check in at the front desk and print keys if they prefer a physical key to use. Remote check-in, whereby guests can check in using their phone and then stop by to pick up their physical keys is another option, allowing guests to avoid long lines.
So what’s the outlook at Caesar’s for the rest of 2021 and beyond? “Very strong, and I would even say, outstanding. We made a strategic decision to keep our national sales team — who are located around the country and are a staple in their communities – working for the duration of the pandemic,” Massari says. “They stayed close to their customers and worked incredibly hard during this time. Because we stayed so connected, we were fortunate and contracted more future business in the 12 months of the pandemic than we had in any other 12-month period in the history of the company.”
The entire Marriott team is very optimistic about business travel, as it is already returning and will continue to grow. And while everyone has learned to adapt in terms of using technology and different ways to connect, the Marriott team is hearing from customers that there is tremendous pent up demand to get back on the road. “We believe business travel is poised to return, and we can’t wait to welcome these travelers back into our hotels,” says Tammy Routh, senior vice president of global sales at Marriott International.
As part of Marriott’s initiative to welcome back guests, Marriott has introduced digital content about redefined processes and reimagined spaces guided by cleanliness experts and best practices to help hosts, organizers and attendees plan and execute meetings, and connect with confidence. Specifically, Marriott is introducing changes that include enhanced sanitation guidelines, new operational training for associates and increased use of conference technologies to ensure that customers are able to come together when they are ready. Meeting planners may now reference a series of new materials, including customer stories and resources that provide additional context and information for designing successful events in the current environment. Available now on MarriottBonvoyEvents.com, these tools illustrate Marriott’s approach to delivering high-quality meeting experiences across its full portfolio of hotels and resorts.
In addition, Marriott has hosted Connect with Confidence meetings for its customers using the latest hybrid meeting technology. One recent event included 100 in-person attendees and 800 virtual attendees at Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center in Aurora, Colorado in January. The attendees were given information about planning and implementing an in-person event incorporating cleanliness protocols, physical and social distancing, redesigned food and beverage, contactless check-in, well-being checks, occupancy monitoring and more. Survey results from this event revealed that 51% of meeting and event professionals are planning to host a hybrid event within the next six to 12 months. When attendees were asked if they would attend another event if it were to be designed with the same principles, 95% said they would.
And as social distancing continues to be important for many, the Marriott Bonvoy Events team has created a series of floor plans for physical distancing that enable event planners to visualize room configurations that allow for socially distant gatherings while still supporting the meeting’s purpose and goals. Consultations, pre-convention meetings and site tours can all be conducted virtually, and adapted to include hygiene and safety briefings. “Marriott International continues to work in collaboration with industry organizations, such as the Events Industry Council, to find ways to instill trust and confidence in meetings and events,” Routh says. “We look forward to welcoming back customers and guests for the exceptional experiences that our company is known for in a safe and clean environment. Cleanliness and service have always been our hallmarks, and now those deep convictions are more important than ever.”
Putting the entire MGM Resort experience into the hands of guests is at the backbone of MGM’s digital innovations. If guests no longer want to wait in line or are eager for a convenient, contactless way to check in, they can now use the resort’s mobile check-in process. Push notifications can alert guests to the status of their room. When the room is ready, guests can simply access their space with the new MGM Resorts Mobile App, which provides a digital key via a mobile device. In addition, guests can use the mobile app to browse restaurants and reserve tables. And the app provides guests access to all of MGM’s dining and entertainment offerings, as well as guest’s M life Rewards account so they can track your tier credits, points and Express Comps balances.
To further limit contact and streamline the poolside food and beverage ordering process, MGM launched the Las Vegas’ first in-seat poolside mobile ordering system, currently available at select properties with full accessibility at all Las Vegas properties this summer. Each poolside seat location is assigned a chair tag and number, along with a unique QR code that, once scanned, opens a mobile ordering platform where the food and beverage selection process begins. When the order is ready, an MGM Resorts employee will deliver the items to the guests’ seat location.
In addition to embracing a variety of digital touchless experiences throughout their facilities, Hyatt also has turned its attention to making meetings and events as safe and secure as possible — and that includes enhancing its hybrid meeting offerings. For in-person events, Hyatt boasts new protocols for event layout, attendee flow and cleanliness that still provides a level of comfort and enjoyment for attendees. To provide minimal contact to meeting planners as well, Hyatt offers a wealth of digital tools to help in the event-planning process. And for hybrid events, Hyatt now offers dedicated hybrid support teams, technological collaborations to help planners navigate the technology that will result in a well-orchestrated, fully integrated shared experience for all.
Recently, Hyatt announced that it is partnering with Swapcard, a technology expert that provides a virtual and hybrid events platform, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), that helps meeting planners create events from registration to networking, and from livestreaming to community-building facets of each event.
In March, Hyatt also announced plans to explore VeriFLY + STAY, a mobile health passport for the hospitality industry using the VeriFLY app that provides verification of COVID-19 credentials and travel guidelines. As part of these exploration efforts, Hyatt will work with meeting planners to identify criteria for meeting attendees, which could include presenting a recent negative COVID-19 test. The criteria can then be communicated to attendees in the VeriFLY mobile app prior to arrival, so they can fulfill their requirements and complete all necessary forms. Meeting attendees who satisfy a meeting’s requirements will be able to use the app to display a green checkmark for entry into the meeting or event. C&IT